Summer is Here! Solstice Facts & Folklore
When Is The First Day Of Summer?
The first day of summer 2019 arrives with the solstice on Friday, June 21st at 11:54 a.m. EDT. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this marks the longest day of the year and the moment when the Sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, its highest point. For those who live in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the shortest day of the year and the arrival of winter. The solstice happens at the same moment for everyone, everywhere on Earth.
What Does The Term “Solstice” Mean?
The term “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). At the solstice, the angle between the Sun’s rays and the plane of the Earth’s equator (called declination) appears to stand still. This phenomenon is most noticeable at the Arctic Circle where the Sun hugs the horizon for a continuous 24 hours, thus the term “Land of the Midnight Sun.” Here’s how it differs from an equinox.
Some people believe that our seasons are caused by the Earth’s changing distance from the Sun. In reality, it is due to the 23-degree tilt of the Earth’s axis that the Sun appears above the horizon for different lengths of time at different seasons. The tilt determines whether the Sun’s rays strike at a low angle or more directly.
Summer Solstice Folklore
The summer solstice has long been celebrated by cultures around the world:
- In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice coincided with the rising of the Nile River. As it was crucial to predict this annual flooding, the Egyptian New Year began at this important solstice.
- In centuries past, the Irish would cut hazel branches on Solstice eve to be used in searching for gold, water, and precious jewels.
- Many European cultures hold Midsummer celebrations at the solstice, which include gatherings at Stonehenge and the lighting of bonfires on hilltops.
Maybe you celebrate summer by taking a vacation or spending more time outdoors? Whatever you do, just remember, summer officially starts June 21st.
Fun fact: Be sure to look at your noontime shadow around the time of the solstice. It will be your shortest noontime shadow of the year!